Thursday, May 8, 2008

Greetings from: a morning boat down the Ganges

We all have our morning rituals; mine is to sleep through it. But even before the first bits of light start to brighten up the Ganges, it has already come to life. If the evening ceremony was about fire and noise, then the morning ceremony is about water and silence. Men stood chest-deep in water, filling and emptying silver and bronze chalices. Bathers once again came, but instead of raucous laughter, a more reverential tone. The fires at the burning ghats were still alive: ash and cinder and flame because I could not stop for death. A man in white -- a new widower -- walked around the pyre clockwise (the direction in which the universe turns?) before lighting it with a long stick, the end fanned out into a broom of tinder. The stick caught fast, and he had to drop it and jump back, lest he be burned himself. But the pyre didn’t quite catch, and some attendants stoked the fire. Apparently, the better your karma, the quicker your body burns. 2-3 hours minimum, though.

The other, desolate bank of the Ganges also sparked into a life of its own. There’s a small enclave -- less than a village, more than a hut -- and they were waking to their own needs. The sun rose mellow, as if it were still gathering strength, and brief flashes of heat skimmed off the water into the boat itself. The peacefulness seemed almost alien, an escape from Varanasi, rather than an escape to Varanasi. A row of schoolchildren, dressed in white, gave their offerings to the morning, and I laid back on the stern of the boat and waited for day to break.

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